July 12, 2007


Time works in family’s favor
Cathy Torrez’s relatives kept up with police while technological advances strengthened the case.


Mary Bennett was having coffee Friday morning when she got the phone call she had waited 13 years for.

She was told three men had been arrested that day in connection with the 1994 killing of her daughter Cathy Torrez, a 20-year-old Placentia resident.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Bennett said. “I thanked God. I was crying. Now we start another journey through the legal system.”

The slaying has haunted the Placentia community for years and driven a wedge between two families that had been neighbors and friends.

Arrested on suspicion of murder were Sam Lopez, 35, Torrez’s one-time boyfriend, and Xavier Lopez, 35.

The Placentia cousins were linked to the crime scene through genetic evidence police and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office re-analyzed, authorities said.

Sam Lopez’s brother, Armando Lopez, 36, was arrested on suspicion of dissuading witnesses to testify and of being an accessory to murder.

Torrez’s relatives have debriefed each of the city’s new police chiefs over the years and stayed visible in the community. Cathy Torrez’s sister Debbie Torrez became a lawyer and victims advocate because of her sister’s death.

“We feel we have enough evidence to proceed at this time,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy. He had no other comment, concerned that saying more about the evidence might be prejudicial.

Police would not say whether they have determined a motive for the killing.

Sam Lopez’s lawyer, Roland Rubalcava, said he had not seen the evidence against his client.

“Well, it’s been going on for over 10 years,” he said. “This crops up every once in a while, so we’ll see what they have this time.”

Tina Lopez, Sam Lopez’s estranged wife, said she was shocked when she heard he had been arrested and was skeptical about any evidence police have.

“I’m trying to figure out what to tell my daughter,” she said.

Xavier Lopez was arrested in 1997 when evidence was re-analyzed. But the District

Attorney’s Office decided its case was too weak for a trial.

A year after Cathy Torrez’s body was discovered stabbed to death in the trunk of her car, police said publicly that Sam Lopez was the main suspect. He had once been a boyfriend of Torrez’s.

Community members rallied around the family, and the city named an afterschool tutoring center after Torrez, who had been a sociology student at Cal State Fullerton.

People contributed reward money for information leading to any suspect’s arrest and for scholarships in her name.

Torrez tutored and mentored children growing up in the rough neighborhoods of south Placentia. She wanted to be a social worker.

“She was an amazing person to me,” said Marty Torrez, her brother. “She wanted to contribute to society, not just consume things.”

During the week Cathy Torrez was missing, heavy rains washed away most of the evidence around her car, police have said.

Police continued to use improved technology along with the District Attorney’s Office to analyze material from in and around the vehicle – efforts that led to Friday’s arrests, the District Attorney’s Office statement said.

“I know Mary,” Placentia Mayor Connie Underhill said of Cathy Torrez’s mother. “I think this is just a tremendous move forward. When something like this goes on for years, you kind of lose your faith.”

Murder timeline
Feb. 1 2, 1 994 Cathy Torrez is last seen at the Sav-On drug store on Yorba Linda Boulevard leaving her shift at 8 p.m. as a part-time cashier.

Feb. 1 9, 1 994 Torrez body is found, with stab wounds, in the trunk of her car, a burgundy 1 990 Toyota Corolla, in the Placentia Linda Hospital parking lot.

March 1 994 Placentia names its new learning center in Torrez’s honor.

Feb. 1 4, 1 995 Police confirm Sam Lopez, Torrez’s boyfriend and brotherin-law, is their primary suspect. Charges are not pressed for lack of evidence.

October 1 997 Xavier Francisco Lopez, 25, is arrested after newly analyzed physical evidence allegedly links him to Torrez’s slaying. Xavier Lopez, Sam Lopez’s cousin, is released days later because of insufficient evidence.

July 6, 2007 Sam Lopez and Xavier Lopez are arrested on suspicion of murder; Sam Lopez’s brother Armando Lopez, 36, is arrested on suspicion of dissuading witnesses to testify and of being an accessory to murder.

Compiled by Annika Lee and news researcher Michael Doss